Bamboo For Building (Especially for Flooring!)
Bamboo floors are a type of flooring made from – get this – the bamboo plant. Bamboo plants grow all over the world in a wide range of climates and elevations, but they are most commonly thought of as an Asian product. Most climate appropriate species of bamboo are very hardy and they are among the fastest growing plants in the world – some species can grow at rates up to 1.5 inches per hour! Those factors make it an important economic and cultural product in East and Southeast Asia, where it is used as a building material, a food stuff, and as a raw material for many products.
Bamboo In Construction
Again owing to its hardiness and speed of growth, bamboo has been used a building material for thousands of years, especially in Asia and the South Pacific. A bamboo bridge is referenced in Chinese writings dating to third century BC. As a striking visual example of another use, bamboo’s high compressive strength means it is often used as scaffolding for building projects, as seen in the following photo.
Besides its use as scaffolding, bamboo is used directly as a material for building construction, especially if timber is less available or more expensive. If you can do it with wood, there is a decent change you can do it with bamboo. It can be used as a rod or pole to take advantage of its compressive strength, or it can be cut and laminated into other shapes like sheets or planks. This is done by cutting the bamboo into strips, planing them into flat pieces, boiling and drying them, and gluing and pressing them together to create the finished product. They can be stained and varnished or left in a more natural state.
Alternatively, a product called strand-woven bamboo is made by separating bamboo rods into strands, soaking the strands in glue, and then compression into a composite material. It is harder and usually more dimensionally stable than traditional bamboo, and looks more like actual hardwood.
Although it has a long history as a flooring material in East Asia, bamboo flooring didn’t really start to see the light of day in the West until the early 1990s. In the past couple decades its popularity has soared.
Bamboo is useful as a flooring material because of it’s many similarities to the hardwoods that are more traditionally used. It is strong, durable, quickly renewable, and naturally repels moisture and insects (although bamboo flooring materials should still be treated against water and bugs!) The highest quality modern bamboo flooring products can be up to three times harder than hardwoods like oak. It’s ability to repel moisture makes bamboo, especially treated bamboo, and excellent choice for areas like bathrooms. It can also make a great choice for wall paneling, if you are into that kind of thing and the look is appropriate.
All that said, there are still some potentially issues to be aware of when choosing bamboo flooring. In extreme conditions (heat, cold, humidity), bamboo is often not as reliable as wood. This is especially true under frequently changing conditions, where bamboo is more likely than wood to pull itself apart or result in plank cupping. To avoid these problems, don’t use traditional bamboo product and instead opt for more highly engineered modern products. Another thing to look for is grey, streaky discoloration. This is a result of fungus hitting the bamboo within the first few days after harvest. It can be avoided easily if the harvester or manufacturer treats the bamboo, but is something to be aware of and watch for.
If you are interested in looking into bamboo as a flooring material choice, make sure to do some more research. This post is only intended as a basic intro, and you will want to understand all the products available to you and how they fit in with your local environment. As long as you are mindful, bamboo can be a fantastic, beautiful, and durable alternative to hardwoods. If you aren’t convinced, just have a look at the following examples.